Radioactive Material Outside NJ Nuke

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 @ 04:03 PM gHale

The latest cold snap resulted in an radioactive issue PSEG Nuclear’s Salem/Hope Creek reactor complex in Lower Alloways Creek, NJ.

Radioactive tritium was in snow and ice outside a Hope Creek building at levels 500 times higher than federal water quality standards, officials said.

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At an estimated 10 million picocuries per liter in a confined area, it was the second-highest concentration reported in any tritium leak and pollution incident nationwide. Only a 15 million picocurie high at nearby Salem ranks higher, recorded during investigations of a leak and continuing, serious groundwater contamination problem that dates to 2002.

The federal drinking water limit for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen, is 20,000 picocuries per liter.

Although there was no clear origin or evidence the radioactive material had moved offsite, the unexplained finding was a “high reading” and cause for company and regulator concern, said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and nuclear safety program director for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Federal regulators and the company provided details on discovery of the mildly radioactive material on the same day the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) made public plans for a special inspection at Salem Unit 1 triggered by an excessive number of emergency or unplanned shutdowns over the past several quarters.

Investigators said they detected tritium at Hope Creek below snow and ice hanging from a building during routine sampling on Thursday. Radiation monitors were showing normal conditions at the time, and tests of nearby vents the day before found normal tritium traces, according to the NRC.

“As such, there are no obvious potential unmonitored release paths that could account for the reading,” said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC’s regional office near Philadelphia. “No possible cause for the elevated tritium reading has yet been identified. Also, no increased tritium levels have been detected in a groundwater monitoring well located where the snow/ice sample was taken.”

Joe Delmar, spokesman for PSEG Nuclear, said workers conducting routine tritium sampling found the contamination.

“Once identified, appropriate corrective actions were taken to mitigate the small impacted area including clearing ice from a five foot section of the paved surface located at the northeast corner of the building,” Delmar said. “In addition, a containment device was added to capture any more dripping water.”

An investigation is under way, Delmar said. There are no groundwater threats identified, he added, and there are no connections to a longstanding tritium release to groundwater at the nearby Salem Unit 1 area.

Although the detection at Hope Creek was much higher, a dose from consuming water at 1,600 picocuries per liter, the NRC has reported, is 1,000 times lower than exposure to natural background radiation, and 12 times lower than the amount absorbed during a round-trip, cross-country flight.

Before 2006, Lochbaum said, nuclear plant operators had no such monitoring for tritium – a fact that changed when the Braidwood reactor site near Joliet, IL, contaminated groundwater used for drinking supplies in hundreds of homes.

An estimated six million gallons of tritium-tainted water leaked from the plant in more than a dozen incidents with owner Exelon offering bottled water to some residents and in some cases buying homes affected by the spill.

NRC officials are currently reviewing an application from PSEG for approval of a site for construction of one or more new reactors. Company officials have not chosen a technology or individual plant capacity for any new project – which would cost several billion dollars. A separate permit would be required for construction and operation.

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